Lent Devotion for March 2
"The Pull of Culture"
Reader: "Since he was as zealous for my honor…”
Response: “I am making my covenant of peace with him.”
SCRIPTURE: Numbers 25:1–13
1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.
4 The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”
5 So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.”
6 Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; 9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
10 The Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. 12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. 13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”
Reader: "The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
No sooner had Israel been blessed by Balaam, then they once again drifted off into immorality being drawn away from following the Lord by the lure of local pagan women, in the worship of pagan gods. Prostitution was a significant part of pagan worship. As you read, the penalty was harsh and significant. One of the reasons God told the Israelites to destroy the people as they entered the Promised Land, was for this very reason. He knew how easily His chosen people could be swayed and adopt or adapt to the local customs and forsake the Law and instructions He had given them. Their love for Him would fade away. We read how very defiant an Israelite man was to take a pagan woman to his tent, right in front of Moses, and the whole assembly, in front of the Tabernacle! When Phinehas, grandson of Aaron, saw this, he took a spear and killed them both for the zeal of the Lord. 24,000 people had died in a plague of judgment. There is an interesting phrase here. The Lord commended Phinehas’ action, “by being as zealous among them as I was.” Remember, of the twelve tribes, God chose the tribe of Levi to be His priests and the ones who would handle all things relating to worship. You’ll recall back in the days of the twelve brothers, their sister Dinah was violated by a non-Jewish man. It was Levi and Simeon who avenged their sister’s violation by devising a plan to wipe out the whole town, which they carried out. The brothers had a great zeal for justice and truth. The characteristic seems to have been carried down through the generations of Levi. We live in a world, which in its own subtle way, attempts to pull God’s people from the truth and towards adaptation and consciences. Phineas saw things in black and white, in clear distinction. My guess is his father and grandfather had instilled the truth in him. As a young man, he didn’t wait around when he saw God’s word being defiled so publicly and blatantly. Have you noticed how we tend to, out of compassion and sensitivity, tend to move more toward gray? We avoid black and white as being too harsh.
In truth, I’m not sure we know the Scriptures well enough to always discern black and white. May we today be as zealous for truth and purity as God is. May we be modern-day versions of Phineas.
“Hear My Prayer” by Henry Purcell, Clair College Choir (Watch on YouTube)
Lord, grant us grace never to parley with temptation, never to tamper with conscience; never to spare the right eye, or hand, or foot that is a snare to us; never to lose our souls, though in exchange we should gain the whole world. Amen.
- Christina Rossetti